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Shining Lights - Equus

23rd to 24th July 2000.

This is the review from the Newbury Weekly News.

Director should be proud of his company

'EQUUS', performed by Shining Lights, at Bradfield Outdoor Greek Theatre, on Sunday, July 23 and Monday, July 24

It was an ambitious choice for Shining Lights Youth Theatre to perform Peter Shaffer's challenging, psychological play 'Equus' in the delightful surroundings of Bradfield College's open-air theatre. The play concerns both a young boy's self-destructive obsession with his horse-god Equus and his psychiatrist's professional crises over the uses of passion and reason.

Joe Thorpe is a talented youngster who gave a splendidly furtive and passionate performance as the petulant, troubled, Alan Strang, the boy who blinds his horse, Nugget, and five others with a spike. Consequently he is sent by the magistrate (Laura Hamblin) to psychiatrist Martin Dysart, confidently played by Marc Godfrey, who is desperately hungry for divine contact. The doctor's unravelling of the voting man's motives highlights his own internal deconstruction.

Charli Johnson brought a lively characterisation as Alan's religious, bewildered mother and Paul Kerry played the powerful father in a family who shows us the frustrations of people, although married, living alone.

The chorus of horses, (Sophie Hicklin, Melanie Rosier, Abi Preston, Rhys Swinburn) in the original splendid masks from the National Theatre's 1973 production are always present both on stage and in Alan's mind and their carefully stylised choreography added a visually ritualistic dimension to the play. Carl Stallwood portrayed Nugget with strength and conviction particularly in the powerful scene, which ended the first act when rider and horse were as one.

Stable owner (Nick Davies) introduces Alan to Jill Mason, sensitively played by Amy Phillips and their friendship grows but when she decides to seduce Alan in the stables in front of the horses the horror is enacted and Alan has to he true to his passion for Nugget.

Director Pete Watt inventively used every part of the theatre space with great effect. He should he proud of his talented company. It was a pity that the acoustics of the open-air theatre made it difficult to hear some of the lines. Perhaps the play demands a more intimate theatre space that would have bonded the audience and actors but as Peter Shaffer wrote to the company: "daring really is many times its own greatest reward".


"I sit looking at pages of Centaurs trampling the soil of Argos
- And outside my window - He is trying to become one, in a Hampshire field."

Peter Shaffer's psychological drama 'Equus' finds its perfect setting in Bradfield's Open Air Theatre. Using the masks from the original National Theatre production, Shining Lights take this modern classic and revitalise it with their own unique style.

"You know what I mean by a normal smile in a child's eyes."

An explosive study of what is 'normal' seen largely through the eyes of seventeen-year-old Alan Strang. A young man struggling with his own identity in a world with so many conflicting messages.

"His pain. His own. He made it"

As Alan painfully relives his past, under the expert guidance of child psychiatrist Martin Dysart, the two men find themselves developing a unique bond; that threatens to destroy one, or both of them.

"Can you think of anything worse one can do to anybody than take away their worship?"

Peter Shaffer is one of the most successful playwrights now writing, and it is perhaps his mainstream box office success that has caused his work to be so scantily treated by critics. In 1973 Peter Shaffer wrote Equus, which opened at the National Theatre and quickly attracted popular acclaim. Within a year it was moved to Broadway where it ran for over a thousand performances, winning the Tony Award and the Drama Critics Award for best play.

In 1974 Sir Anthony Hopkins' acting career was launched in the USA making his debut in Equus playing Dr. Martin Dysart winning the New York Drama Desk Award and the Outer Critics' Circle Award for best actor. He later mounted another production of the play in Los Angeles, where he received the Los Angeles Drama Critics' Award.

In 1977 Equus was made into a film receiving three Oscar nominations including Best Actor for Richard Burton, Best Supporting Actor, Peter Firth and Best Screenplay based on material from another medium for Peter Shaffer.

Although Equus did not succeed with any of the nominations when you consider the competition that year there is little wonder. Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Saturday Night Fever, Annie Hall, The Spy Who Loved Me, Airport, The Goodbye Girl, all grabbing the headlines and Oscars that year.

Today Peter Shaffer’s work is recognised as a highly valuable part of our heritage with his work being part of curricular studies in literature. Nearly every school in the country will have studied some of Shaffer’s work. The most popular plays being Amadeus and Equus.

Pete Watt, Artistic Director of Shining Lights youth theatre, based in Thatcham, has decided that Equus exactly meets the goals of the company in providing the paying public with drama that is challenging and interesting which will go along way towards changing the public perception of youth theatre.

"I've wanted to direct Equus for a numbers of years. As much as the playtext is by Shaffer - the images that have become part of twentieth century theatrical history are very much the original director’s, John Dexter. To direct Shaffer's play, retaining some of Dexter's genius whilst at the same time making it my own has been challenging but ultimately rewarding. In Shining Lights I have a company of young people capable of doing justice to this classic text.

"Shaffer creates moments of pure theatre in his writing. This makes him a personal favourite and confirms him as one of the great living playwrights, a playwright in the truest sense of the word; a master craftsman."

Shining Lights are at Bradfield Open Air Theatre performed Equus on 23rd and 24th July.

Pete Watt concludes, "We hope everyone will get behind us in the true harmony of community spirit, often talked about but never harnessed properly, now is the chance".